The past year was rife with changes to the Columbia County sports scene.
Lakeside High School starts 2009 with a new athletic director and fresh faces heading the baseball and wrestling programs. Harlem coach Jimmie Lewis ceded his duties as athletic director to his friend, Lonnie Morris, but he will continue to coach baseball and football. Greenbrier lost its baseball coach and found another.
And a new high school brought talk of personnel shake-ups and questions of which athletes are going where.
There promises to be more intrigue this year. Here is some of what lies ahead for Columbia County sports in 2009.
Building a tradition
The football stadium at 2010 Warrior Way is nearing completion.
All it needs is sod.
The new year will bring a new rival for Columbia County public schools.
Barring a hold on the grass, Grovetown High School will field a football team in the fall.
Former Greenbrier coach Rodney Holder landed the job everyone expected would be his and was named Grovetown's first football coach.
"He knows what it takes to build winning traditions," Grovetown principal Penny Jackson said at the school's latest informational meeting. "He's done it before."
Holder also applied to be the school's athletic director, but Jackson went with Burke County High School's Todd Booker. Jackson said during the search for an AD that the position was an extension of the school's administration, and Booker, an assistant principal at Burke County who has lived in Columbia County more than a decade, fit the bill.
The Warriors will begin play in the fall, with every sport but football competing as part of Region 3-AAAA.
The football team will play a full slate against other first-year programs. Holder has already lined up about half of the Warriors' opponents.
The Warriors -- a nod to the soldiers at nearby Fort Gordon -- will field teams in every major sport.
The first months of 2009 will be spent processing teacher transfer requests and with Booker deciding which coaches he can hire.
His staff should be decided in the next few months.
New faces on diamond
Chris Wilkins did his best to appear out of the loop when the news broke he was to be the next baseball coach at Greenbrier.
Greenbrier coach Rodney Holder announced last spring he was stepping down to pursue the Grovetown football job and said Wilkins was replacing him. Wilkins feigned surprise, but the former Richmond Academy coach had broken the news to his Musketeers team weeks before when his team was mercy-ruled by the Wolfpack.
Wilkins won't be the only new face on Columbia County baseball fields this spring.
Lakeside's baseball squad will be under the direction of T.J. Davis starting with the 2009 season, but the former Panthers assistant had to endure a wait while another candidate weighed an offer.
Westside baseball coach Gerald Barnes was offered the job first. Barnes, who is less than a decade from retirement age and caring for an ailing wife, decided to stay at Westside, where the baseball field was named for him last season. In return for staying, he'll work half days and have more time to spend with his wife, Sissy.
The new coaches inherit vastly different challenges.
Davis will benefit from a strong crop of players returning from last season's team, which beat Greenbrier for the first time since 2005. Senior catcher Mike Gram, who signed a letter of intent during the off-season to play for Limestone College, is back.
So is ace Harrison Brawley and fellow seniors Preston Pye and Patrick Arrington.
The Panthers will be playing in a new-look Region 3-AAAA, which will be without the Wolfpack.
Greenbrier will play all of its county rivals before region play begins March 10. The Wolfpack will be competing in Region 2-AAAAA the next two seasons.
Slugger T.D. Davis will be back for his senior season, but the Wolfpack's challenge will be finding a pitching rotation that works.
Davis and Wilkins meet for the first time Feb. 25 at Greenbrier. The game will be Lakeside's season opener. Greenbrier opens its season Feb. 23 at Evans.
Other stories for 2009
1. How do you follow up a perfect regular season?
That's the question Evans football players and coaches will be faced with in the fall. The Knights finished 10-0 during the 2008 regular season to claim the Region 3-AAAA title before falling to Mount Zion-Jonesboro in the first round of the playoffs. Coach Marty Jackson's team will be without more than 20 seniors who will have graduated when it takes the field for preseason camp in August.
2. First season of the Bacheller
Augusta Prep will launch a football program in the fall, and although it will only be at the middle school level initially, Cavaliers administrators will be paying close attention to the participation level and product on the field.
Cavaliers football coach Harry Bacheller, who was hired from Atlanta private school St. Pius X in September, will be charged with both. If the first seasons go well, Prep plans to expand the program to the junior varsity and varsity levels.
3. Stellar seniors
Greenbrier's and Evans' softball seasons ended after runs to the state finals last season.
Both teams have key contributors coming back.
The Wolfpack's infield duo of Kaila Hunt and Ashlyn Masters and Knights pitcher and third baseman Jenny Shepherd are among the best players in the state.
All of them will be back on the field in the fall for their final season at the high school level.
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